Man Utd backed off respecting Gareth Bale, but it was our other winger who they left one-v-one who decide the game, as it finished Spurs 1 Man Utd 1.
Andre Villas-Boas brought in Steven Caulker to partner Michael Dawson, as Jan Vertonghen made way due to illness. Clint Dempsey came in to the side with Emmanuel Adebayor at the African Cup of Nations.
Man Utd very much had a game plan after being detonated early doors by our speed and transitions at Old Trafford. However, it was Tottenham who ‘did a United’ after equalising in stoppage time to make it Spurs 1 Man Utd 1.
Man Utd tactics
Man Utd initially lined up in a 4-3-3 with Robin van Persie flanked by Danny Wellbeck to the right and Shinji Kagawa to the left. Michael Carrick anchored the midfield with Tom Cleverly playing a left sided-role and Phil Jones to his right.
Although Man Utd started like this, it changed after just 15 minutes. Cleverley and Wellbeck switch sides and the 4-3-3 became a 4-2-3-1 with these two dropping deeper, leaving Shinji Kagawa playing off Robin van Persie.
The surprise inclusion of Jones allowed Man Utd to help Rafael double up on Gareth Bale. The Welshman had torched the Red Devils at Old Trafford and Fergie wasn’t going to allow that to happen here.
Man Utd dropped deep, allowing no space in behind the defence for us to run in to. When Bale received the ball, a combination of Rafael and Jones, or after he switched sides, the Brazilian and Cleverley, were there to meet him.
This really skewed the Man Utd formation to the right hand side of the field.
If we take a look at their average positions for the game, we can see this Rafael and Jones wall, with Cleverley coming across on the cover when Bale came inside.
As we’ll look at in a minute, Patrice Evra on the other side was very much left one-on-one with Aaron Lennon, creating a big area down the inside right channel. This is ultimately where our best moments came from.
Spurs lined up in a 4-3-3 and used relentless pressing from the front through Jermain Defoe and Clint Dempsey. The American would look to close down the centre backs, whilst the Englishman would hound David de Gea, forcing him to kick long.
This resulted in Man Utd frequently turning the ball over from either being tackled or having to kick downfield, as there was no out-ball that could be played.
When in possession, due to Man Utd’s tactics of blocking off Gareth Bale, this actually opened up the centre and right flank.
Clint Dempsey got in down the middle and was fouled by Michael Carrick in the first half, with the former Spurs man receiving a caution. In the second, Dempsey was slipped in by Moussa Dembele, but could only shoot straight at de Gea when clean through one-on-one.
Man Utd’s deep defending saw them concede 25 shots, but 11 of these were blocked and pretty much all of these were through the centre.
As we looked at in the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Man Utd, the Red Devils have conceded chances through the middle.
With Ferdinand and Vidic not wanting to come out and mark a second striker who drops off the front, it was no surprise to see Dempsey get 5 efforts away from central areas. Neither was it a surprise that Man Utd blocked so many shots from the middle.
Inside right channel key
With Man Utd heavily focussed on stopping Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon on the other flank was afforded much more room than usual.
We can see this from the average position map above that there was a gulf between Patrice Evra and his centre backs. This was strange given that Lennon had also caused Man Utd problems with his pace at Old Trafford. However, if United were opting for a case of ‘pick your poison,’ they probably thought that Lennon would be less of a threat to be left one-on-one.
The diminutive winger only received 19 passes in the match, half as much as Bale on the other side, but was extremely effective when in possession.
Patrice Evra picking up a yellow card in the first half also aided him. After cutting inside a firing a tame left-footed shot, the United left back, worried Lennon would get in again, tripped him in full-flight after he threatened to run free. The foul was significant as it meant Evra couldn’t have afforded another mistimed challenge, but also showed where the United weakness lay.
When the ball was moved out to Lennon, he received it wide on the right, midway inside the Man Utd half. He would then cut inside and look to play the ball from the inside right channel either through the defence or square.
He only received 19 passes, but created 6 chances doing this, of which several should have been taken. Jermain Defoe had the best opportunity, dwindling on a ball slid in diagonally from the inside right channel, allowing Rio Ferdinand to block.
The equalising goal also came from here, but was due more to Lennon’s positioning to stay in his lane. David de Gea flapped at Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s cross, pawing it in to the path of Lennon, who had remained in the inside right channel.
The winger was extremely composed to pick out Clint Dempsey, who passed it in to the corner of the goal, something he should have done earlier when clean through.
BAE – the unsung hero?
The goal was as much to do with Aaron Lennon playing through the inside right channel as it was made possible by bringing on Benoit Assou-Ekotto.
With a naturally right-footed player in Kyle Naughton filling the left back role, he was struggling to get forward on the overlap. Gareth Bale was moving inside to get away from the double team of Rafael and Jones, which should have left Naughts to get round and cross the ball. Andre Villas-Boas recognised this and although not yet match fit, got the left-footed Benni in to the game for the last 30 minutes.
Naughton did admirable job defensively, but failed to get forward and put in a single cross. After Benoit Assou-Ekotto came on, he was able to put in three crosses, including the one David de Gea flapped in to the path of Aaron Lennon.
Spurs 1 Man Utd 1 conclusions
After being destroyed by quick transitions at Old Trafford, Man Utd came with a game plan to defend deep and stop Gareth Bale getting in behind.
To key on one man is a massive mark of respect and whilst this may have been a practice run for Cristiano Ronaldo, Spurs’ domination of the game would’ve worried Fergie.
United almost grabbed the points, courtesy of what could have been argued as a ‘smash and grab’ performance. Spurs out-shot Man Utd by 25 attempts to 4 and just two of the Red Devils’ shots were on target, there lowest number all season.
Whilst Man Utd were focussing on Gareth Bale on the left, they opted to leave Aaron Lennon one-on-one down the right, maybe a bit of a disservice to Aaron?
Patrice Evra has lost some of his pace this season and that has had a knock-on effect on his defensive positioning. Lennon was able to use his speed and dribbling to take full advantage, exposing the channel between Evra and the centre backs.
This left Lennon to get in down this channel and create chances that resulted in a point, but Andre Villas-Boas was left disappointed it wasn’t three.
“We deserved the draw – we deserved to win, to be fair. We controlled the game, limited their chances and it was unfair for us to go 1-0 down in the first half.”
Andre was not wrong, arguably Spurs could have edged this game had we been more clinical in front of goal.